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What makes this Merced County star different from other prep catchers? It’s his call.

Buhach Colony senior R.J. Garcia, shown here earlier this season against Golden Valley, is one of the few high school catchers asked to call his own pitches behind the plate.
Buhach Colony senior R.J. Garcia, shown here earlier this season against Golden Valley, is one of the few high school catchers asked to call his own pitches behind the plate. Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

Starting at catcher for the Buhach Colony High baseball team means extra homework for senior R.J. Garcia.

Garcia is one of the few high school catchers asked to call his own game behind the plate. Most teams have a coach call pitches from the dugout.

It’s Garcia’s job to decide whether to throw a fastball or go with a breaking pitch. His job is to stay one step ahead of the hitter. He’s also matching wits with opposing coaches as he tries to shut down the opposing team’s running game. If he thinks a baserunner maybe running, he may call a fastball to give him a better chance at throwing out the runner.

Hidden behind his catcher’s mask, Garcia’s eyes are always moving as he looks for any advantage against the hitter.

“I look at their hand placement, their timing, where they stand in the box,” Garcia said. “I look to see whether they are farther up in the box or if their feet are in the back. I can’t give away all my secrets.”

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Buhach Colony senior catcher R.J. Garcia is one of the few high school catchers asked to call his own pitches when he’s behind the plate. Shawn Jansen Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

Garcia’s not the first Thunder catcher Buhach Colony coach Greg Wakefield has trusted to call his own game.

“We’ve done it a lot, going back to guys like Jake Jefferies and Joe Medeiros,” Wakefield said. “We work with them, but I’m a firm believer how you execute a pitch is more important that what pitch you throw.”

Wakefield believes having his catcher call his own game helps speed up the game. There’s no looking into the dugout, waiting on a sign. It helps keep the game moving along and keeps his defense on their toes.

Garcia puts together his own scouting report on opposing teams. He’ll go online to MaxPreps on the day of each game and look at the statistics for each hitter of the team they are going to play. He’ll look to see who the top hitters are, who’s swinging a hot bat. He’ll develop his game plan from there.

“I’ll write up everything I need on a note card,” Garcia said. “If it’s the second game of a series, I’ll look at the boxscore. All look at what guys did what, where they hit the ball.”

The results speak volumes.

Buhach Colony finished the regular season with a 21-5 record, winning the Central California Conference championship with an 11-1 league record.

The Thunder will open the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs as the top seed. Buhach Colony will host No. 16 Johnson on Tuesday at Buhach Colony at 4 p.m.

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Buhach Colony senior R.J. Garcia is hitting .375 and leads the Thunder with 18 RBIs. Shawn Jansen Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

With Garcia calling pitches, the team has a 1.25 team earned run average.

Garcia loves the attention his pitching staff receives.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” Garcia said. “I know they are executing the pitch too, but I have to call the right pitches too. If they are getting recognition that means I’m doing my job.

“We have a staff where all our guys can hit their spots. I don’t have to work too hard.”

Of course, Gacia has the luxury of working with a talented pitching staff.

Senior Alex Kendrick (7-2, 1.52 ERA) is headed to Fresno State on a baseball scholarship next season. Left-hander Antonio Cortez (6-2, 1.31 ERA) was named the CCC Pitcher of the Year in 2018. Sophomore Jake Sapien (3-0, 0.64 ERA) just verbally committed to Stanford University.

“He’s a great catcher,” said Sapien, who says he hasn’t shaken off Garcia at all this season. “He knows what to call. He’s great with pitch selection. He looks up every batter and studies him.”

As a four-year varsity starter, Garcia has emerged as a leader. He’s been a team captain the last three years.

Garcia is also a threat with his bat in the middle of the Thunder order, hitting .375 and leading the team with 18 RBIs.

Garcia is always working on his craft. When he watches Major League Baseball games on TV, he studies the catchers. He watches how they call games and picks up things along the way.

“He’s been fantastic,” Wakefield said. “There aren’t too many pitches I would second guess. Our pitchers have shaken him off a few times, but most of the times they are shaking him off, it’s because R.J. is telling them to shake him off.”

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